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No Jobs and no Basic Income – Unemployment Stats Downplay SA’s Jobs Crisis

No Jobs and no Basic Income – Unemployment Stats Downplay SA’s Jobs Crisis

By the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) and the Assembly of the Unemployed (AoU)

03 June, 2021

The AIDC and the AoU note the results of the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) with concern. The results of the survey show that unemployment in South Africa has reached the highest levels in the country’s history. It is the youth who make up the majority of the unemployed. Austerity policies by the government will only make the situation worse.

The latest QLFS results show that the official unemployment rate increased to 32,6% – the highest rate on record. But while the official unemployment’s increase of 0.1% highlights the country’s growing job’s crisis, it is the expanded definition that shows us how bad the crisis is. In the first quarter of 2021 the country saw a rise  in the expanded definition of unemployment by 0,6% to 43,2%. This is partly due to the number of discouraged work seekers having increased by 6,9% quarter on quarter. In simple terms this means that an additional 201 000 work seekers have given up their hope of finding a job in the last three months alone. This takes the total number of potential workers who have been so discouraged that they are no longer even looking for work to over 3,1 million.

However, even these figures – the 0.1% increase to the narrow definition of unemployment and 0.6% increase to the expanded definition – are misleading. This is the case when one considers these numbers in relation to the fact that more than 1.3 million jobs were lost since the same time last year.

In terms of the unemployed, StatsSA now records that there are more than 11.4 million people who are unemployed. This number of unemployed may be even bigger, considering that a large number of the so-called 17 million not economically active is made up of home-makers and/or previously discouraged workers, many of whom would readily accept decent work if on offer.

As alarming as the level of the narrow rate of unemployment currently is, its highest since 2008, it does not accurately reflect the unemployment crisis that we are facing. For this reason, the narrow definition of unemployment should be scrapped as the official statistic. The expanded definition albeit not perfect is a truer reflection of the situation, and should be used as the official figure instead.

This unemployment crisis that the country faces is structural. It is not a consequence of the negative impacts of the pandemic, nor is it fundamentally due to a shortage of skills, the latter is exemplified by the fact that there are growing levels of unemployed graduates. The reduction in government spending, through budget cuts, including the cuts to social grants, coupled with the cuts to the public sector wage bill, will lead to growing levels of joblessness in the short to medium term. We need an end to budget cuts if we are serious about addressing the unemployment crisis in this country, and the related social ills that come with it.

There is lots of work to be done, the government should be providing decent work for the millions of unemployed willing and able to work. It should be drawing on their capacities that are being wasted away to help rebuild the country and begin a just recovery. Simply put it should be working to advance the Right 2 Work for all South Africans.   However as much as we call for government to begin implementing these longer-term measures, we also note that it is an immediate fact that people are starving. More than 10 million people go hungry each week. Now more than ever we need to implement a dignified basic income grant on a permanent basis, the money to pay for this can be raised from the implementation of a net wealth tax and force big businesses to stop hoarding the country’s resources for themselves.



For the Assembly of the Unemployed:

Siyabulela Mama – / +27 65 970 7079

Khokhoma Motsi – / +27 73 490 7623

Matthews Hlabane – / +27 82 707 9860

Vuyokazi Made –

Mooketsi Diba –

Ayanda Kota –

For the AIDC:

Dominic Brown, Economic Justice Programme Manager,

Greg Dor, Researcher,

Rekang Jankie, Media Liaison officer,

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